Dragons, Dracula and the Future of Climbing

The Open Championship was held this past weekend.  I know what you’re asking, what does this have to do with backpacking and climbing on our vacations?  Clearly the heat in Peaklessberg has gone to Andrew’s head.  Well, something the color analyst said about the up and coming generation of golfers struck me about our own sports.

He said that television and the Internet have transformed players’ knowledge and their ability to prepare for those golf courses.  They can see golf courses they have never played, like St. Andrews or TPC at Sawgrass, and know where the hazards lie or the way the ball will roll over a particular part of the green.  Golfers today come to these courses more knowledgeable than golfers before.  For example, when players from the United States and Canada in the 1960s went to play St. Andrews in Scotland for the first time, the only guidance they had was a rudimentary rendering of the layout of the course.  So when Jack Nicklaus (golf’s version of Reinhold Messner) first arrived at the Old Course, he could not predict or know what precisely the ball would do at various aspects of the course.

One hundred years ago, backpacking and mountaineering was also guided by rudimentary guidance about the territories we explore.  But since the 1950s and 60s, these sports have evolved upward as well.  Maps, trail guides, and route reviews online have exposed what was once a mystery of topography.  While man, as a species, has not yet been to every point on earth, there is little secret about what is there… generally speaking.

The big, obvious mountains have all been conquered and some of the lesser peaks too.  One day, it will be recorded in Alpine Journals that all the peaks have been climbed.  There ought to be a celebration at that point.  It would be a significant junction, where the touching the points ended and the familiarizing ourselves with the intimate aspects of the mountains and climbing might begin.  Only, this familiarization has already begun in many of the great ranges, such as the attempts on the infamous Magic Line up K2 or the new route up Mount Foraker in Alaska, aptly named Dracula, which was just scaled this June.

The age where there is a blank on the map is over.  Finding dragons in the unknown is a preposterous idea.  We cannot stop this trend from happening, where the map is being filled-in and the peaks are being bagged.  But the thrill of making an ascent yourself – your own first – or creating your own route will never be surpassed.


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